“I never allow teachers or school leaders to visit classrooms to observe teachers; I allow them to observe only students”.

John Hattie (2012)

I’ve been mulling this statement over for the past few weeks and it seems to boil down to this: are we interested in how teachers teach, or how students learn? It’s become a truism in recent times to say that just because a teacher is teaching there is no guarantee that students are learning anything.

But, if you walk into a classroom it’s hard not to look at the teacher. Especially if they’re standing at the front delivering their lesson. It’s very hard to remember that what the teacher is up to is not actually that important; it’s what the students are doing that ought to matter most. By observing teachers are we really only focussing on hot air? We routinely ask questions of teachers like. are they differentiating? How are they asking questions? Are they using this or that strategy? This kind of observation runs the risk of merely inviting the observer to give their advice on how the teacher could teach ‘more like me’. All this results in is cosmetic change for change’s sake. at best it’s well meaning but ineffective and at worst it’s bullying and used as a club to force compliance. Why should we change the way teach just because an observer has a preference we don’t happen to share?

Isn’t it more reasonable to ask what the effect of teaching is? Hattie suggests that all observations should be either from the students’ point of view, or of the students. If observations were focussed on what the students were doing instead of what the teacher was doing would we have a much sounder basis on which to make judgements and offer advice?

Some questions to ask about teachers’ effects on learning might be:

  • Are you aware of each student’s progress from their starting point to the point at which the success criteria have been met?
  • How close is each student to  attaining the success criteria?
  • What needs to happen to help students move closer to meeting the success criteria.
  • Are the students aware of their progress?

I’ve been videoed teaching a few times in the past and have always found it a salutary experience. I cringe watching myself and vow that I’ll find ways to rid myself of all the irritating verbal tics and the nasal Brummie twang. I think now that all this agonising has been missing the point. Beyond my own vanity, it’s not really about me. Maybe, I need to look into filming my students instead? This will certainly be something I try to focus on in future classroom observations.

Related posts: